NFL Draft: Buffalo Bills select Utah football’s Dalton Kincaid with No. 25 overall pick

Kincaid caught 106 passes for 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns across the 2021 and 2022 seasons

Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid, left, runs after catching a pass as Colorado safety Jeremy Mack Jr. (3) pursues in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The University of Utah had not had a tight end selected in the NFL Draft in a generation, but Dalton Kincaid put an end to that streak on Thursday evening.

Kincaid, twice an All-Pac-12 honoree and universally considered one of the nation’s top pass-catching tight ends, was selected with the 25th overall pick Thursday evening by the Buffalo Bills, making him the sixth-ever Utes tight end picked and the first to be chosen in the first round. Kincaid is the first Utah tight end to be selected in the NFL Draft since Henry Lusk went in the seventh round to the New Orleans Saints in 1996.

The Bills, who had not drafted a tight end in the first round since 1983, originally had the 27th pick, but traded up with the Jacksonville Jaguars in order to grab Kincaid.

“I wish I could take the credit for coaching him up into a first-round pick, but that guy has an awful lot of natural ability and things that we saw on him that we felt like he would eventually be a draft pick,” Utah tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham said recently. “I’m not sure that we predicted he would be a potential first rounder. I can’t tell you how many recruits I’ve talked to in this [cycle] that have pointed to him catching 70 balls (in 2022). He’s gotten a lot of great publicity and I think whatever position he goes in next week, whether it’s first round, second round, whatever, I think it’s great recruiting content for us for sure.”

Kincaid was at, or at least near, the top of what was a deep tight end draft board for the last four months despite not being able to train. He suffered what appeared to be a serious back injury late in the first half of a win at Colorado on Nov. 26. Kincaid managed to get himself together enough to catch four passes in the Pac-12 championship game six days later, but the injury was serious enough that he missed the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

The Las Vegas native went through measurements and interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he did not go through drills. Kincaid was present at Utah Pro Day on March 23 but again did not work out. He said that day that he had just recently gained clearance to begin working out while he was also putting an eye toward being ready to participate in OTA workouts with his new team later in the spring.

On April 12, it was reported that Kincaid had received full clearance from renowned orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Robert Watkins, who sent a letter to all 32 NFL teams.

“Dalton Kincaid sustained a back injury while playing football on 11/26/2022,” the letter from Watkins read. “Subsequent MRIs have shown appropriating healing and he has been asymptomatic with no pain and no limitation of function for at least 3 months. He is cleared to play football with no restrictions.”

Kincaid played a significant role in helping Utah to back-to-back Pac-12 championships and subsequent trips to the Rose Bowl, catching 106 passes for 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns across the 2021 and 2022 seasons. His 2022 season, with defense keying on him after fellow pass-catching tight end Brant Kuithe was lost for the season in late September to a torn ACL, was special.

His 70 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns all were team bests, while his 16 catches (on 16 targets) for 234 yards and a touchdown in an Oct. 15 win over USC will stand for years to come as an iconic performance.

With Kincaid off the board, Utah is expected to have up to three more players drafted before the weekend is out. Cornerback Clark Phillips III is a safe bet to be selected in either the second or third round Friday, while projections for offensive lineman Braedan Daniels and linebacker Mohamoud Diabate vary between Saturday’s fourth and seventh rounds.